Play Makers: Kluane Chilkat: Grizzlies and Seniors and Rain (oh my!)

The bike relay that begins June 21 from Haines Junction consists of more than 1,000 cyclists, 225 teams and close to 300 volunteers.

For me, the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay — a race that sees competitors cycle 238 kilometres from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska — represents everything I love about the territory: strong community, breathtaking scenery and hearty adventurous Yukoners.

I have many fond memories from the four years I have competed.

I saw my first grizzly bear while participating in the Kluane Chilkat.

There I was, juggling a soccer ball with some fellow racers, waiting to support my teammates, totally oblivious to the three RCMP officers who were rerouting traffic less than a kilometre away.

“What are you guys doing here?” asked the unimpressed female police officer. “You do realize that there’s two large grizzly bears in the field just beside you right?”

We didn’t, but quickly moved on.

From possible bear sightings to surprise snowstorms to almost being beaten by a solo rider in his mid-60s, you never know what is going to happen during the race.

The year was 2004 and my mission was simple: do not let Mr. Belvedere beat you.

My legs still get sore when I recall the 38-kilometre pedalling frenzy I went on that year.

Mr. Belvedere was the nick name we had given the senior cyclist early on in the race. He was our arch-nemesis that year with his black socks pulled up to his knees, his thick white beard and his three-speed bike.

In fact, his tortoise-like pace did not change throughout the race yet somehow he had managed to stay in front of our team for more than six legs of the race and over 175 kilometres, his smile never wavering.

Thus my determination and focus was understandable.

I cannot describe the elation I felt when I finally did cycle past Mr. Belvedere at about the 30-kilometre mark of Leg 7.

The elation would be short-lived however as when I arrived at the end of my leg there were no teammates to be found.

Why you ask, because, instead of racing to provide support to their teammate, me, they elected to socialize with other racers at the end of Leg 6 and thus got stuck at the border.

This year, please don’t be that team … send your Leg 8 rider ahead with plenty of time to spare, because there is no aggravation that can match that of watching a smiling Mr. Belvedere zip past you after you just finished doing your best Lance Armstrong impression only to arrive at the end of your leg to find no teammates.

We eventually did beat that inspiring senior cyclist, but only by 15 minutes.

The Kluane Chilkat is also memorable because of the impression that beautiful stretch of highway makes on so many people.

I can recall one transient friend of mine who was still unsure if he was going to stay in the Yukon through the summer and fall.

By the end of the race he was left awe-struck by the St. Elias mountain range and was questioning how he was even debating leaving the territory.

It’s that kind of race.

Even last year, I had a great time without even cycling, instead electing to take the fast ferry from Skagway so that I could participate in the evening’s festivities.

Some would say this is the real test of your limits.

What makes the 16th edition of the Kluane Chilkat even more special is that it falls on summer solstice.

I can’t think of a better place to rest your sore quadriceps and gluteus maximus muscles than on the Haines hillside overlooking the ocean.

So, oil up the chain, dust off the helmet and prepare for anything, whether it is freezing rain, grazing grizzlies or determined seniors.

It is all possible at the Kluane Chilkat.

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